Brainwashing is evil

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The other day, I stumbled into a part of StackExchange that was very interesting. It was the parenting site. For those who don’t know, StackExchange is a collection of “Questions and answers” websites, where people can ask questions about a wide range of topics, and answer other people’s questions and earn reputation points by answering thoroughly. At the beginning, there was only StackOverflow, which is the programmer’s version where we could ask for help with code. Since then, it has grown extremely fast all the way up to 165 sites as of today, including programming (duh), chess, manga, movies, puzzles, etc.

One interesting thing about this community is that people who too obviously answer in a subjective manner are often downvoted into oblivion. This creates a community where you can *usually* expect the answer to the question to only focus on the content. A good example is on the politics website, where if you ask a question about a specific quote from Donald Trump, as opposed to most forums I’ve seen, you will get a mostly objective answer about the nature and context of the quote, instead of getting something along the lines of “He’s a terrible person, therefore it is not surprising that he has said that horrible thing”.

Perhaps the biggest example of this is in  one particular question, where a parent asked how to convince their 8-year old son to stop doubting religion. This person mentioned that they lived in Pakistan, and the religion to not be doubted was Islam. The main reason for his concern was that he didn’t want his son to get beaten or killed because he was questionning what his teachers told him. That’s definitely very intense. A lot of people around here would instantly start telling the asker that Islam is bad and they should leave this country and religion as soon as possible. You might agree with that, but in that case, the answers professionally focused on how to convince the son to stop voicing his doubts, instead of giving unproductive complaints about the context. It doesn’t matter how wrong you think that something is, if you can’t change it, you should focus on the task at hand, which is to try to prevent the kid from getting killed.

That was a very interesting experience, although it was a little bit scary and definitely repulsive.

Then, using the site’s system of suggesting similar questions as the one you are currently reading, I stumbled into a bunch of religion related parenting questions. Religious parents worried about their children not believing, Atheist parents worried about religious teachers indoctrinating them, etc.

As always, the answers usually, in the context of the question, accepted as truth the belief of the parents and answered the questions as objectively as possible. It’s really nice to see a self-described christian giving suggestions to an atheist as to how to deal with an abusive teacher who hit the kid for expressing doubts about God.

I’ve also noticed a pattern. Most parents seem worried about someone (or something) indoctrinating their children to the “wrong” belief. Some of the most self-aware parents were also worried about themselves brainwashing their children. A lot of atheists that I know have had religious parents, but became atheists by themselves, through doubt and research. They will then encourage their children to also figure out their own beliefs, but will sometimes be unhappy if the child comes to a different conclusion.

Considering the fact that all of these people believe that they are right (otherwise they’d change their minds in order to be what they think is right), it might seem logical that they all teach what is “right” in their opinions to kids. But if everyone teaches as absolute truth what they believe, while everyone thinks the truth is different, then statistically speaking every children will get taught falsehoods more often than the truth.

So, if we assume that brainwashing is bad, then speaking about any religion or lack of as truth to your child is bad. But if you don’t, then someone else will, and from your biaised perspective, that’s definitely worse.

So is brainwashing justified in this case?

How about certain belief systems, like some versions of catholicism, where a non-believer is doomed to hell or a similar punishment? If you truly believe that becoming an atheist is dooming your child, is it justified to brainwash them to religion for their own good?